Progress Lamborghini

Progress Lamborghini.

After 20 years of working in and out of Japan, you would think someone as passionate about cars as myself would have attended the Tokyo Auto Salon (TAS) at least once by now. Well, despite promising myself time and time again, that opportunity did not come until this year and boy, I had no idea what I was missing!

The 33rd annual Tokyo Auto Salon took place January 9-11, 2015 and was held at the Makuhari Messe; which ironically isn’t even located in Tokyo!  The “Messe” (German for mass), is actually located in neighboring Chiba Prefecture on land reclaimed from Tokyo Bay. From Tokyo Station, the train ride on the Keiyo Line is approximately 30 minutes. Once arriving at Kaihin Makuhari Station, it is a five-minute brisk and chilly walk to the main entrance of the Makuhari Messe. This year’s event, the largest to date, completely filled the convention center’s massive event halls with anything and everything a car lover could ever dream of!

The Tokyo Auto Salon was not always the huge event it has become today. In fact, back in 1983 when a Japanese tuning magazine named Option started the event, it was simply referred to as the “Tokyo Exciting Car Show.” In 1987, the name was changed to the current Tokyo Auto Salon.

In the early days of TAS, it was only Japan’s custom car builders and tuners who gathered to show off their work. Today however, alongside some of the same custom car builders and tuners are new custom builders, parts manufacturers, accessory companies, RC carmakers, clothing companies, tire manufacturers, and much more. The explosive growth of the event has even brought out Japan’s conservative car manufacturers like Nissan, Toyota, Honda, Lexus, Subaru and Mazda. Even mini “Kei” car companies like Suzuki and Daihatsu all have prominent displays that feature not only their latest vehicles and technologies, but of course beautiful models and race queens with smiles showing off their own “goods” as well. TAS has certainly morphed into the kind of event that anyone in any car related industry simply cannot ignore.

Believe it or not, TAS is a place for domestic cars as well.

These wheel lugs certainly make a point.

These wheel lugs certainly make a point.

The event is only three days long and there is a lot of ground to cover and things to see in a very short time. The first few hours of day one were relatively quiet in the event halls, until the show opened to an advance public viewing from that afternoon. Despite it being Thursday and a normal work day in Japan, people started streaming in and long lines started to form outside the Messe.

From that point forward everyday, from before 9AM till after 6PM, the Messe was completely packed. The Japanese, well known for their attention to detail and organizational abilities, had TAS staff everywhere to politely and peacefully route thousands of visitors coming to TAS into long snaking and organized formations, wrapping around and in and out of the Messe. Visitors eagerly, yet quietly and patiently, waited in line for their turn to enter the show. Once inside, everyone is free to wander as they will, yet it still felt packed like being a single sardine in a can of many.  Despite the massive crowds, because it’s Japan, things are generally peaceful, courteous and friendly. Over 310,000 people are reported to have attended TAS 2015.

As I meandered through the giant halls and in and out of almost every display, I truly felt like a kid at Tokyo Disney Land for the very first time. TAS is a virtual playground for car enthusiasts of all sorts. From brand new cars to concepts for the future, custom Nissan GTRs to Toyota 86s, classic Japanese iconic cars to retro custom remakes, automotive technical colleges to the Honda design center, mini custom vans and trucks to fully decked out VIP cars, RC cars to real drift cars, wide-body Lamborghinis to the mini Suzuki Hustler, clothing to stickers, DVDs and a mind-shattering collection of LED lights and accessories for cars, trucks and bikes.

TAS is a place for learning too. I discovered some things I never knew about before. Do you know what KTC stands for? Well, don’t feel bad I didn’t either, but the Kyoto Tool Company is a tool manufacturer with a long-rich history, who still make their high end tools in Kyoto, Japan. They manufacturer ratchets, wrenches, and a variety of high-end tools for different applications including drifting. They even have a designer tool line with some ratchets costing thousands of dollars each!

Liberty Walk dropping widebody bomb on this Lambo.

Liberty Walk dropping widebody bomb on this Lambo.

For tuning and custom car enthusiasts, TAS offers an incredible opportunity to meet some of Japan’s legendary tuners and customizers face to face. Stopping by the Top Secret booth will certainly get you a smile and a picture with Smokey Nagata, while RE-Amemiya, at 70 years of age, is still manning his booth and telling his infamous rotary stories to the groups of people eager to hear him speak. At the Liberty Walk booth, Kato-san is smiling and posing with people from all around the world and jetting between meetings and interviews for 3 days straight. At the Boomcraft booth people gather for a chance of a picture with one of Japan’s legendary Tokyo Midnight LED Supercar Crew; including Mr. Morohoshi himself who took pictures and signed autographs for all three days.

As you walk outside on the elevated walkway between the north and center halls of the Messe, the sound of tires spinning ring your ears, as the smell of burnt rubber permeates your nostrils. This comes from the outdoor drift demonstrations that take place morning to night everyday throughout the TAS. There are also live stages where bands, groups and dancers perform while a live TAS broadcast feed features guests and commentary throughout the course of the event.

The van, or RV, scene is huge in Japan.

The van, or RV, scene is huge in Japan.

Many Japanese car builders have told me before that they worry about the future of the Japanese car industry. They fear young kids today are not interested in cars and transportation like they once were. While this maybe a legitimate fear, I walked away inspired by what I saw at the various Japanese Automotive Technical Colleges who had displays at TAS. The young students completely design, redesign, and conceive some of the coolest cars I have ever seen. The passion and pride these young men and women have for their projects was very apparent and after seeing what they are capable of building, it made me confident that there is still a lot of cool things to come out of Japan for quite some time going forward.

Three days at TAS is physically draining. I wish I had one more day, because there were a couple more things I really wanted to see.  One is what the locals refer to as the “Underground Auto Salon.” That is when you head into the underground and outdoor parking areas to explore all of the cool cars that visitors drove in to the Messe.

Toyota Alphard, 'the' van in Japan... Go for Vellfire 'high performance' model if you get the chance.

 These cars may not be on display inside the show, but from what I hear there is always a huge assortment of awesome cars parked in and around the Messe throughout the TAS. Another thing to witness in person, is when the cars actually leave the show on Sunday night after TAS ends. The sounds and sights that fill the evening air are supposedly unforgettable! Next year, I’ll be sure to allocate time for these events too!

Cool you jets James Bond... this Toyota 2000GT is a kit based on the Miata.

Cool you jets James Bond… this Toyota 2000GT is a kit based on the Miata.

Finally, the Tokyo Auto Salon isn’t only about cars and car related stuff. TAS brings together the largest gathering of sexy models, who are intended to help display car-related items but wind up being even more on display themselves! The most crowded booths were those with the prettiest girls! Crowds of men with cameras gather around, as race queens, companions and models smile and pose pretty for hoards of DSLR camera clicking fans!!! At some points during the show, I stopped to ask myself if these guys were even here for the cars at all?? The answer is no; but at the end of the day if not for the cars there would be no girls. So indirectly, the cars are still the pull, even though I believe much more memory card space was spent on girls than the actual cars themselves!